The plaid shirt brigade were out in force for this one – there was a buzz about the band, following a packed out show at the Swn Festival – but if they were expecting to only have to nod heads knowingly, they were in for a surprise, as Girls far surpassed expectations.
Spectrals, from Leeds, first provided more than adequate support. Going for the twee/country Glaswegian sound, their singer sounded a little like Stephen Pastel. Support bands may either choose to try and blast the headliners off the stage, or be more sedate in reverence of the main band. Spectrals definitely chose the latter option, in quite endearing fashion. Stand-out song for me was “Peppermint” from their latest EP. They even had a tour manager who was the spit of Rob Gretton, or at least, the version of Joy Division’s infamous manager as portrayed in the film, Control.
Given that Girls revolve around just 2 main members, I wasn’t expecting to see a total of 7 mics being set up. The three on the right of the stage were for 3 backing singers, who helped create a much fuller sound than that of the slightly watered down recorded tracks I’d been listening to on youtube. Girls’ videos are all highly-lit, dream-like sequences featuring parties, girls and, in one, a bright red Ford Mustang. They look a bit showy-offy, and you wonder if they’re just another music-for-adverts type of band. But live, they seem more genuine, and in fact quite soulful. Singer Christopher Owens may have abandoned his Children of God cult past, but he appears to still have a spiritual side. The backing singers, taken perhaps from a Gospel choir, reinforced this.
Many of the songs are relatively simple, old-fashioned love songs, which in a way is quite refreshing. “Love Like A River” reminded me very much of “I Never” by Rilo Kiley, but is in much the same vein as any ballad. But Girls can really rock out too. The middle section of the set featuring “Alex”, the popular “Lust 4 Life”, “Magic” and “Honey Bunny” finally got people dancing rather than just shuffling their shoulders, and even clapping along in places.
Without doubt the highlight for me was the 6 minute long “Vomit” two from the end, the ugly title belying the fact that it’s a beautiful song. It builds fantastically, and towards the end, one of the backing singers stepped forward to sing alongside Owens and absolutely nailed her vocal part. But saying that, by way of complete contrast, the band then straight away launched into the finale, “Die”. As if to say, ‘yeah, that was good, but look what we boys can do with our guitars’, it was a spectacularly raucous way to close, and in fact I think the song could do without the quiet bit tagged on at the end.
The encore featured first Owens just on guitar, before the rest of the main band joined in behind him. Without the backing singers, for a moment, they seemed almost ordinary, so it was with relief that the smiling faces of their female companions once again joined in for the closing song.
optional additional reading –
Supposedly Owens has been quite reliant on opiates in his time, and with the look also of Kurt Cobain, you just hope that this might not signal a short life expectancy. However, for me, it reinforces my view that, at least for the listener, bands that take lots of drugs are very much a good thing. Spacemen 3, Happy Mondays and many other bands of that era, are all shining examples.
Not 100% sure of the band name, another one that confuses Google, and will have people for some time inevitably asking – are there girls in the band? – when you mention them, but I’m starting to think that perhaps band names are a secondary consideration these days. If the name is about Owens’ intention to get girls though, with this sound and set-up, he shouldn’t have a problem there. Perhaps he’s a fan of the old Denim lyric (whose singer, Lawrence, is the subject of a limited edition Girls single due for release soon), “And you can send all my letters, care of my lawyer in New York/ And you can keep all my letters, except the ones that are sent to me by girls.”